Insects as inspiration for horror fiction

A potter wasp - the last thing you want to see if you're a grub

A potter wasp – the last thing you want to see if you’re a grub

Insects, or creepy-crawlies generally, can be quite scary. Especially en masse. Think of cockroaches, or locusts, or bees. It’s something about the bittiness of them, the impersonal nature of their advance, their unstoppability even when you kill some of them.

So an insect attack is quite a good subject or device in a horror story.

But better still is to think yourself, as an author, into the insect world itself.

I’m not a great one for reading horror stories; they elicit emotions in me that I prefer not to exercise. But I did read a story a long time ago that had someone waking up suspended by a butcher’s hook and lacking limbs. It gave me the heebee-geebees and still does.

And yet that’s more-or-less exactly what happens to grubs paralysed and imprisoned in clay ‘pots’ by certain wasps (potter wasps) in order to feed their young.

If you think about it, even the loss of individuality within a swarm (or flock or colony) is scary in itself. Imagine sacrificing yourself totally to the greater good of your hive, as a bee, to the extent that you deny your own reproductive capabilities and work your fingers to the bone only to be cast out when you’re past your best.

Come to think of it, this could be the inspiration for more than just a horror story …

The Rule of Three

Four-leaf clover

Four-leaf clover

A four-leaf clover is considered lucky because it’s a rare oddity. But its fortune-bringing reputation contradicts traditional beliefs regarding numbers because three is generally considered luckier.

The Rule of Three is a principle that applies in communications as diverse as horror stories, comedy sketches, speeches and fairy tales. Three is the smallest number needed to establish a pattern, so while the first and second elements build up expectation, the third releases it by means of a twist.

Take for instance ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ where everything disappoints until the third attempt with Baby Bear’s things, or horror stories where the third noise isn’t the wind or a harmless cat but something much more dangerous.

Four is the number of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Four in Asian culture is like number thirteen in the West – the number of mischance and death. Japanese blocks of flats sometimes even omit the fourth floor.

So perhaps the run-of-the-mill three-leaf clover is just as much a lucky charm – maybe even more so.